If it’s your first visit to Nepal, you are most likely to end up in Thamel on the arrival day as it is the most popular tourist neighborhood in the country. It all began when hippie culture swept over Kathmandu in the 60s/70s, when backpacks, peace activists, musicians, and western artists crammed Thamel. There is still a street in Thamel named for those hipsters who toured the globe in search of good hash and enlightenment. The Nepalis refer to it as Old Freak Street.
Today, Thamel is called the biggest commercial hub in the country. It is in fact the only place in the world where 16 different businesses run parallelly. It is now a chaotic jumble of upscale restaurants and hotels, one-size-fits-all trekking equipment stores, and inexpensive but lively pubs, clubs, and cafés.
Thamel is one of the most rapidly developing cities in the world with one of the most expensive real estate. With the price of 350 sq. ft of land in Thamel, one can purchase land in the suburbs of Manhattan.
You might underestimate Thamel as another Asian tourist-oriented town but you should definitely give it a chance as there are plenty of things to immerse yourself in. Even though being a small piece of the global village, Thamel has yet maintained all the historical and cultural artifacts. This is a blog that will guide you through the corners of Thamel so that you can have a laid-back vacation and enjoy your time in the city.
Getting to Thamel
The prominent tourist area of Thamel in Kathmandu is well connected to the main streets in the city. Thamel can be reached from Tribhuvan International Airport in roughly 20 minutes. You can grab a metered cab/taxi from the airport. Sometimes, your designated hotel offers free transfers where they will pick you up from the airport. Also, most tour and trekking agencies include free transfers if you purchase a package with them.
Accommodations in Thamel
The accommodation in Thamel is super varied; from lower budget hostels to 5-star international chain hotels. Travelers can select their lodgings according to their budget, taste, and convenience. Some of the popular luxury hotels in Thamel are Hotel Marriot, Kathmandu Guest House, Aloft Hotel, etc. Similarly, Kathmandu Garden Home, Hotel Jampa, Kumari Boutique Hotel, etc. are the mid-range hotels in Thamel surroundings. For backpackers, there are many options from dorm bed hostels to local homestays.
Foods in Thamel
Thamel is a fantastic area to explore if you enjoy eating. There are bakeries, fast food restaurants, and fine dining restaurants serving a variety of cuisines in the vicinity, so you may pick up your preferred lunch option or a quick snack to sate your hunger. As Thamel is a center for the multi-cuisine culture, the area offers some outstanding restaurants with their diverse menus and unique aura as a heaven for the taste sensations. You will find many items from local to traditional Nepali meals to authentic Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, etc. There are also options from vegan, vegetarian and halal. There are quaint coffee cafes where you may relax while drinking coffee and reading a book.
Must-try local foods in Thamel
As you are already in the town, you must not return without trying some of the local foods such as dishes from the Newari community. The original inhabitants of Kathmandu are the Newar people who have a rich culture and tradition along with a variety of foods that are authentic, delicious, and rich in spices. Some of the must-try Newari foods are Yomari, Sapu Micha, Bara, Chatamari, Chhoyela, Dhau, Lakhamari, Samayabaji, etc. and must-try beverages are Chhyang and Aila. Almost every Newari restaurant has the mentioned dishes. Some of the most popular Newari Restaurants in the Thamel and its neighborhood are Harati Newari Restaurant, Lhosha Ghasha Authentic Newa Restaurant, and Kathmandu Heegu Bhwoychhen Restaurant.
2.Nepali Thali/Khana Set
Another must-try food in Thamel is the Nepali Thali Set. It is a staple Nepali meal and most people eat it twice a day as a lunch and dinner. It is simply called Daal Bhat or Daal Bhat Tarkari which literally means rice with lentil soup and vegetables. It is served on a silver or brass plate with rice, lentil soup, seasonal vegetables, fermented pickle, and salad. There is a wide range of eateries in Thamel where you can find Daal Bhat; it is found almost in every Kitchen.
Other than the above-mentioned cuisines, you can get to taste authentic foods from different communities during festival times. You will also find the restaurants of local Sherpa people where they serve authentic Sherpa and Tibetan foods. There are restaurants only dedicated to Tamang food, Kirati dishes, etc. in the streets of Thamel and its surroundings.
Banks, ATMs & Money Exchangers in Thamel
You will easily find places for exchanging foreign currencies in Thamel. There are many banks, ATM booths, and money exchangers within a short distance from each other. Keep in mind that there are fewer banking hours and that transactions might take longer. Also, for a smooth transaction in banks and money exchangers, don't forget to bring your passport or other forms of identification.
Nightlife of Thamel
As a whole, Nepal is not known for its nightlife or clubbing culture. But one place, in particular, shines more than others to become Nepal’s exquisite nightlife glittering center, i.e., Thamel. In fact, the best nightclubs and bar districts are in this town. You will find anything from crazy nightclubs, upscale pubs, bustling discos, frantic casinos, and karaoke establishments. Late-night live music performances by bands are also an option, as are cultural performances where you may watch the traditional dance or cultural singing battle called Dohori. The nightlife of Thamel will be in full-on mode till midnight. Some of the best spots to spend your night in Thamel are Bring out Cafe and Bistro, Buddha-Bar, Karma, The Purple Haze, Trisara, Lord of Drinks (LOD; the 52nd best club in the world), etc.
How safe is Thamel?
It is a normal occurrence to feel uneasy or threatened if you are in a new place or traveling alone. However, you do not have to worry when traveling in Thamel as it is a relatively safe district to travel to. It has a low crime rate and many friendly people. However, you must constantly be watchful of your surroundings and especially watch out for pickpockets. Also, be cautious when out and about at night. Nepalis are known to be naturally friendly and laid back. Hence, the shopkeepers or the sellers do not have wicked plans to take advantage of people or be overly aggressive about their products. Stalking and following are also very low. And if someone pursues you to buy their things simply say no or just ignore them.
Pickpocketing, burglary, harassment, and looting are uncommon, especially when it comes to visitors. Tourist Police units are easily accessible; you may quickly locate their van or units on Thamel streets. Not to mention that the police are quite helpful.
Things to do in Thamel
1.Shop till you drop
Thamel is renowned for its winding lanes lined with a variety of shops and street sellers. Hence, you will be surrounded by a wide variety of stores as you wander Thamel's streets and lanes. The town may be your one-stop store for everything from trekking gear to handicraft souvenirs. Everything from expensive Kashmere scarves, blankets, carpets, and pashminas to cheap electronics and jewelry can be found in Thamel. The shops in the town also sell handicrafts, incense, spices, tea, leather, jewelry, weapons, traditional Nepali clothes, thangka, decorative items, and books. You will undoubtedly have a nice buying experience here if you know how to haggle.
2. Heritage Walk in Thamel
In the midst of the bustling streets of Thamel lie many ancient cultural landmarks that are mostly overlooked. Before Thamel was called Thamel, it was called Tabitha Bahal where the inhabitants were the Newar people. These Newari communities are mostly influenced by the Hindu as well as Buddhist religions. Hence, you can find many religious and cultural sites dedicated to many Hindu gods and Buddhas in the corners of Thamel.
The Tri Devi Temple, Sunken Ganesh Shrine, Gairi Dhara, Shiva Shrine, Ashoka Stupa, Bhagwati Temple, Chhwasal Ajima Sthan, Maitripur Mahabihar Bahal, Bhagwati, Kumari Shrines, Vikramshila Mahavihar, Kaathe Swayambhu, etc. are some of the sites you come across during your Thamel Heritage Walk.
3. Thamel Rickshaw Tour
Another best way to explore the whole of Thamel is by taking a rickshaw tour. It would be definitely a wonderful experience, especially for the first timers. Riding in this three-wheel vehicle helps to skip the walking between the crowds of people and honking vehicles. You sometimes need to bargain with the rickshaw drivers but almost every rider is friendly and can also be your guide during your Rickshaw Tour.
4. Trek Preparation
Thamel is home to several great tour and trekking companies that are prepared to organize any sightseeing trips, day trips, trekking trips, and more anytime in accordance with your preferences. Once you confirm the trekking journey anywhere from Everest Base Camp Trek to Annapurna Circuit Trek, you will need to purchase some necessary trekking gear. Hence, the area of Thamel is ideal for you as it boasts a lot of trekking shops with high-quality goods.
5. Unwind via Spa, Massage, and Natural Therapy
If you're unwinding after a trekking journey, you will need a restorative and refreshing massage. You can relieve your stress and exhaustion by visiting one of the numerous spas, massage parlors, and therapeutic facilities of Thamel. The sauna & steams rooms, and Jacuzzis are very common in the spas here. The massage centers offer you varieties of menus including Thai massage and deep tissue massage. Also, natural therapy and holistic therapy sessions are terrific ways to remedy jet lag and shake off vacation fatigue. In addition, Thamel is also where you can find some great beauty shops and salons if you're seeking one.
6. Relax at the Garden of Dreams
Once a private garden of high-ranking Rana field marshal, Kaiser Shamsher, Garden of Dreams is the best place in Thamel to skip from the continual honking of horns, the lingering smog, and the never-ending haggling from street vendors. It is known as Swapna Bageecha in Nepali which means “Garden of Six Seasons” referring to the six seasons of Nepal. The space includes gardens, ponds, verandas, pavilions, an amphitheater, and pergolas. After paying a certain amount as an entry fee, you can relax in the garden for as long as you want until it closes at 9 P.M.
7. Traditional cooking class
Want something different? Then why don’t you sign up for the traditional cooking class? This is not a must-do thing in Thamel but is for those interested ones as Thamel has some of the best workshops in the city.
You don't need to have any prior cooking knowledge to enjoy this activity. Anyone who is interested can participate in a flavorful and entertaining traditional cooking workshop. Not only can you learn to make traditional Nepali dishes but also learn to select the best ingredients, trade secrets, and Nepalese culture, and even make some new friends from different parts of the world.
As Thamel is located in the heart of the city, people can travel around the city and even engage in short hikes/day hikes in popular hiking spots like Shivapuri, Phulchowki, Champadevi, and many others. Travelers can also engage in tours starting from Thamel such as cultural heritage tours, city tours, and many others.
Some important tips to travel in Thamel
1. There are thousands of different travel, tour & trek companies running businesses in Thamel with different purposes. Hence, if you are planning to travel with them always be sure that they are registered and authorized by the Nepal government.
2. Make sure your trip organizer is experienced and updated with the latest government protocols.
3. Also, make sure to check out your trip planner’s reputation and past because there are few agencies and individual guides who have different ill intentions.
4. You might encounter beggars, souvenir sellers, and sometimes hashish sellers (hashish is illegal in Nepal) in the street. If they approach you, you just need to simply keep ignoring them.
5. Be updated with the taxi fares as some try to charge you more than the normal rates.
Thamel is really a vibrant place that one can never get tired of. It is an exciting district full of opportunities. Its tiny alleyways crammed with a variety of shops and sellers really stand out. Whether you are heading towards north or south, hills or mountains of Nepal, starting or ending the trip, you surely have to be at this wonderful neighborhood in Kathmandu once.